FRANKENSTEIN: MAN OR MONSTER
Blue Orange Theatre, Birmingham, Friday 21st July, 2017
This new piece from Mad Tom Theatre is written and performed by Augustus Stephens. Using familiar characters from Frankenstein – the book and the old films – Stephens gives us a kind of tour of mental illnesses as he brings to life a range of personalitie: Victor is a paranoid schizophrenic; Igor has OCD to the point that it makes him dangerous to himself and others; abandonment exacerbates Elizabeth’s eating disorder; the so-called Monster hears voices, hallucinates and is confused why everyone rejects him…
Stephens is an affable stage presence, swiftly swapping characters so they can exchange snappy dialogue. There’s a laidback, casual feel to the show even though Stephens is working hard to appear effortless. He invites us to participate in a song about a yodeller and a cuckoo clock and we do, because we will him to succeed. Yes, there are songs: witty ditties that shed light on a character’s mindset. Typically, the Monster is the most sympathetic, childlike and confused, wondering what he has done wrong. “You see a monster where I see me,” he sings plaintively. Igor, in a solo scene, reveals his inner struggle, his fears of harming someone, and it is heart-rending and a little frightening.
As a whole, the piece highlights how the mentally ill are treated, by the public, by the authorities, as monsters because of a lack of understanding. Lucy Poulson directs, keeping Stephens on the move and the action clear. A tilt of the head and a change in vocal register and he is a different character – it’s effective and impressive and a lot of fun. The writing is delightful with sparks of wit that surprise as much as the poignant moments.
Entertaining and enlightening, this neat little show deserves a longer life and a wider audience.
THE MARRIAGE OF KIM K
Blue Orange Theatre, Friday 21st July, 2017
Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro collides with ‘reality’ TV star Kim Kardashian in this vibrant new musical theatre experience by Leo Mercer (lyrics) and Stephen Hyde (music). Hyde also directs and appears as Stephen. Three couples: the Count and Rosina from the opera, Kim K and her short-term husband Kris, and TV viewers Stephen and Amelia, share the stage and our attention as their marriages come under strain.
Amelia is a lawyer but loves nothing more than watching trash TV. Her composer husband Stephen seeks solace in Mozart. Cue arguments and fights over the remote control. And a lot of La La Land-type self-expression. Meanwhile, Kim K is exchanging text messages with her next love interest, Kanye. Beefcake Kris is on his way out. Count Almaviva and his wife reflect on their courtship and wonder where the spark went and when jealousy and distrust moved in.
It’s all beautifully sung (Yasemine Mireille and James Edge both belt like troupers and add depth to Mr and Mrs K) and for the most part the three styles of music (opera, pop, electro) blend, complement and contrast with each other euphoniously, accompanied by string quartet Echo Chamber. It makes its points in the first fifteen minutes and with a charming and fitting resolution, when roles are reversed and the couples from the television gather on the sofa to watch the ‘real-life’ Stephen and Amelia negotiate a peace.
A feast for the ears, the singers fill the Blue Orange with their voices; it’s a good listen but perhaps my unfamiliarity with the world of Kim K and her ilk (which I have up to now studiously avoided) is a bar to some of the satire. The elevation of her glamorous, self-promoting life to high art, I suppose, mirrors the recognition of our own emotions in something as ‘lofty’ as opera. Emily Burnett’s Countess is sublimely human, with a reworking of Cherubino’s ‘Voi Che Sapete’ that touches the heart. Nathan Bellis is also in great and funny form as the suspicious, adulterous Count Almaviva. In the light of the two larger-than-life couples, Stephen and Amelia (Amelia Gabriel) seem small potatoes; while we are amused by the Count and touched by his wife, and tickled by the notion of Kim Kardashian as a role model and diva (in the musical sense), the couple on the sofa seem petty and inconsequential. It’s almost as though ‘real-life’ doesn’t matter.
Musically dazzling, often amusing, this is a clever piece that works as a showcase for the talented cast rather than a biting insight into popular culture. But that’s postmodernism for you.